Monday, March 24, 2014

Choosing Favorites

Today I got blind-sided by a two-sentence Facebook post. It said, "Shannon Cooley I know you must be a reader since you are a writer. And I'd love to hear more about your favorite books and what drives you to write."

My responses are a little long for Facebook, so I'm putting them here instead, as two separate posts. First, the books.

I've always struggled with choosing favorites, and not just with books--if you ask me who my best friend is, my brain will start asking, "Best friend from growing up? Best friend from [insert state here]? Best friend from college? Best writer friend? Best friend at church? Best friend when I need a laugh? Best friend to cry with?" and on, and on. (Yes, I just gave you all license to consider yourselves my best friend. Just don't be offended that you share the title.)

Choosing favorite books also seems to fall into categories for me. There are books that are my favorites because they've profoundly changed my view of the world. There are books that I love because they're so darn re-readable. There are books that just make me happy, even if others wouldn't see them as anything amazing. There are books where just the words and cadences seem to fill me up and make me glow. There are books that have taught me about a specific aspect of writing, that I re-read just to be reminded of that thing. Then there are my favorites from this year, or since I graduated college, or from high school... you get the point.

I guess that's a long way of saying that the list you're about to get might not make sense--you may look at the list and see one book you read and loved, but three that you hated, and you wonder how I could possibly group them together.

That's why it's my list. ;-)

So, ordered simply by which came to mind first, here are some of my favorite books.


"Till We Have Faces" by C. S. Lewis. I read this book for the first time when I was 15, and I've read it many times since. I chose it for a book project in high school, and as inspiration for my most complex paper in college. No matter how many times I read it, I always feel like I'm scratching the surface. Lewis considered this his best work of fiction, and it's one that always leaves me amazed.


"The Blue Castle" by L. M. Montgomery. Though not as well-known as the "Anne" books, this one has moved and taught and entertained me nearly once a year since my early teens. The writing is lyrical, the characters are fantastic (Montgomery caricatures family relationships and small-town people better than anyone I've ever read--both their flaws and their virtues), and it's a sweet love story that actually feels real (no love-at-first-sight or he/she-is-so-gorgeous-I-can't-breathe here). She also excels at writing about nature--thanks to this and the Anne of Green Gables books, I really want to visit eastern Canada someday.


"Four Seasons in Rome" by Anthony Doerr. This one is creative non-fiction, and it's prose that reads like poetry. I pick this book up and read a single page, and my day is better. It's some of the most beautiful writing I've ever read.


"A Ring of Endless Light" by Madeleine L'Engle. Really, this book could be right at the top of this list. This book has changed my world-view in several ways over the years, influenced me for good, made me want to be a better writer, always keeps me pulled in from the first page, and just makes my heart sing. I love everything I've read by L'Engle, whether it be fiction or creative non-fiction ("A Circle of Quiet" is my favorite of her non-fiction). She was a person whose thoughts dwelt on things of cosmic significance, and so her writing, though often brushed aside as "children's books" or "just fantasy/sci-fi", is full of deep truths and beautiful insights. If I could pick one person to write like, it would be Madeleine L'Engle.

Other favorites:
  • "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" by Cathrynne M. Valente -- Yes, this actually lives up to its name. It's billed as YA fantasy, but the style is somewhat like George MacDonald, mixed with Lewis Carroll, and then a little L. Frank Baum thrown in for good measure. It has the narration style of a fairy tale from another century, with wisdom for our age and enough of the madcap to make it all thoroughly enjoyable.
  • "The Thin Woman" by Dorothy Cannell -- Cozy mystery, very funny.
  • "Merlin's Keep" by Madeleine Brent -- Adventure/romance/historical/a bit of paranormal? I'm not even sure how to categorize this one, but it's fun.
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede -- YA fantasy, makes fun of a lot of the classic fairy tale stereotypes. Easy, funny reads.
  • "Arabella" by Georgette Heyer -- Regency romance. Really, most of Georgette Heyer's romances could make this list, this is just the one that comes to mind first.
  • "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte -- Do I really need to define this one?
  • The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander -- Most people have heard of "The Black Cauldron", but the entire series is wonderful. These are some of the first novels I remember my parents reading to us when I was a kid, and they're still wonderful when I read them as an adult.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis -- Another series I was read as a child, and have read again many times as I've grown up.
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling -- Again, I doubt I need to say much about these. I love the world, I love the writing, and they're great re-reads.

So, so many wonderful books left unlisted. Really, you ought to be amazed I managed to contain myself to this many.

What are some of your favorite books? Can you pick just one very favorite?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring Flowers

Yesterday I got suddenly and inexplicably desperate for spring flowers. I'm not ready to plant any yet, so instead I went to the craft store and bought stuff. Here, in all its springy glory, is my first-ever door wreath.


I didn't actually even glue in the flowers, I just wove the stems in--we'll see if it holds. If it does, it'll be easy to re-do for other seasons. ;-)

This is one of those instances where a small thing is actually a big deal. Decorating is one of the areas of homemaking where I feel least-competent, and I don't yet have a single thing hung on any of my walls inside my house. But now my front door feels homey, at least, and it soothes both the part of me that gets frustrated with my lack of decorating skills and the part of me that just really, really wanted pansies.

Next step: real pansies around my mailbox. Possibly the purple-so-deep-it's-almost-black kind.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Coming Back to Life

It's spring again--sort of. Georgia is confused. One week we get snow, the next it's 80 degrees. Then we get an ice storm (major disaster for an area that never has one--trees and power lines down all over the place), followed by an earthquake, and then it gets warm again. Then cold. Then warm. Then cold.

In the midst of this crazy weather, we decided to run away to Myrtle Beach, where it was nice and warm...


...for a day. And then it was bitter cold. Then we got back to Georgia, and it was warm and beautiful. And today it's freezing again.

You get the picture.

But somehow, even with all of these atmospheric anomalies, the trees in Georgia have started blooming. The grass is starting to turn green (except for ours, but that's another story). My thoughts have turned toward gardens, and our friends just bought a batch of fuzzy, multi-colored chicks.

I love seasons. As much of a paradise as Monterey, CA was/is, I desperately missed seasons while living there. It's not just the seasons themselves, though--while I love snow and heat in moderation, it's the changing from one season to the next that I love the most. It's when the weather moves from cold to warm, from warm to "let's go swimming;" every time the air starts tasting crisp and the leaves change color, or the first snowflakes start to spin; these changes are what I love.

The change in seasons makes me feel capable of change. It makes me want to change. It makes me feel like I NEED to change something, in order to keep up with the very fabric of nature.

I am a creature of habit, but unfortunately the bad ones are so much easier to pick up than the good ones. I fall easily into routines which are stagnant, more existing than living. I forget to notice details in my day and examine time as it passes. I forget to invite people over. I forget to take my girls on adventures.

But then the wind changes, and with it I feel that sudden drive, that need for change, and it wakes me up. Like the trees and the grass, I feel myself coming back to life.

I'm going to have adventures this week. Are you?